Friday, February 15, 2008

Kumaran, son of Kuruppan

In cities one hardly gets to know people. Everybody is busy. Contacts are often short and functional. But in villages you have time, people have time. You watch individuals grow up, get to know them, partake in their sorrows and joys.
Kumaran of my village, Olavipe, is a Pulaya, a Scheduled Caste. Here the word is used as a statement of fact and not derogatorily. These are days when people can be prosecuted for calling jathi peru (caste name).
Kumaran’s father, Kuruppan, was a fairly tall, dark and affable person. He had a ready smile as well – sparkling white teeth (no toothpaste those days) on the black face. And he was a man of guts, a trait his son has inherited. Kuruppan was one of the few people who said ‘no’ to the priests from Cochin who came to Olavipe to convert the low castes to Christianity. (See
History of conversions to Christianity in Kerala – an overview in Articles By Abraham Tharakan)
I think Kuruppan was quite radical in his outlook. He named his eldest, a girl, Meenakshi. That was something unusual among Pulayas in my area. The regular names were Chirutha, Kali, Neeli and so on. Even Kumaran was a deviation from traditional Pulaya names.
Kumaran had primary education which was not so common among Pulayas 70 years back. But he is the type to whom education necessarily doesn’t have to come from formal schooling. Highly intelligent and observant, he learned many things on his own. One among these was the capacity to judge people and situations right and act appropriately.
A good physique and personal courage makes him stand out. He has the capability to be equally at home in the paddy field or a factory. Once I sent him with a team to a factory which was facing security problems. The situation was handled well. He also worked for sometime as a foam rubber fabricator.
A general complaint against Kumaran is that he doesn’t do any hard work (except when the bosses are looking) but makes others toil. Well, that too is an ability. At the end of the day the work gets done.
I took this photo of Kumaran last month at Olavipe. Notice the thorth (thin towel) on his left forearm? That is a show of respect in the villages. Normally it would be worn on the head like a turban or kept on the shoulder.
Kumaran has taken care of his children well. The eldest is an officer with a major bank. Three are involved in smalltime business like shrimp farming on contract. And one is the elected representative to our Panchayat (the powerful Local Administration body)!
Kumaran is our Senior Pulaya now. That is an important position in the agricultural scenario. He is also our chief of security. He is not the type who would retire. He would go on till he fades away.
Also see:
Tender coconuts: For class distinction to fighting hangovers
Caste System: Is Kerala still a madhouse?


Nebu said...

What you said about calling Jathi peru as a cognizable offence is very true and sometimes used cleverly to intimidate others. About three years ago one of my workers made a complaint to the local station house officer alleging that I called him his caste name, which never happened. The complaint was drafted by the local union leader and this happens to be their modus operandi to give strength to any and all complaints. The Sub inspector summoned me. Luckily I managed to wriggle out of the predicament as my maternal uncle was the state Director General of Police.

Murali RamaVarma said...

Men like Kumaran belong to a rare breed of wonderfully capable, loyal and warm human beings who are unique in many ways. Every old ancestral families had someone like Kumaran as a shadow.

You tempt me to write about , Raghavan , our own "man friday" at my ancestral home Parimanathu Kovilakam in Thirunelloor.

Kind of you to remember such innocent souls, both living and dead.


Guru said...

We had a similar person by name Karuppaiyyan (in tamil, a dark person )in my mother's village in Tanjore some 40 years ago. But was not of scheduled caste and hence those days was allowed inside the house, albeit only part of it. He went to primary school with my uncle and hence wielded some authority when giving advice!

His family served my mother's family for generations. He was a walking local historian and a consummate carnatic music lover. Used to teach me how to enjoy Thyagaraja's compositions.

His towel was tied to his waist like a belt, again a mark of respect.

One of his sons went on to become a cardiologist in Madras, and Karuppaiyan was very proud of him.
The cardiologist son never forgot his roots and was kind to the poor in his thriving private practice in Madras. Karuppaiyyan never forgot to use the services of his son for the befefit of the village poor. He used to arrange a free walk-in clinic during his son's visits.

Pradeep said...

It's so refreshing to read such pieces... rare isn't it to see such people!

Abraham Tharakan said...

nebu, as you said you are lucky to have got off because of your connections. But others who are not so well-connected, would be in a soup in such instances.

Abraham Tharakan said...

murali ramavarma, thank you for the comment.
I wouldn't say that Kumaran is 'innocent' but the small flaws are outweighed by the plus points.
I do hope that you would write about Raghavan.

Abraham Tharakan said...

guru, thanks for the comment.

I really admire the nobility of Karuppaiyyan and his cardiologist son for giving something back to the home village. Many people tend to forget their roots.

In Kerala also tying the towel around the waist is a sign of respect.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Thanks,pradeep. I suppose there are many such people. But in cities we don't get to know them.